Theory of Knowledge
With reference to two areas of knowledge discuss the way in which shared knowledge can shape personal knowledge.
In this essay, we are faced with the question as to how shared knowledge can shape personal knowledge. Can the world be improved every time each individual contributes his own knowledge for the benefit of someone else? Is knowledge sharing the key to success?
Initially, I will provide definitions of key-notions for better understanding of the difference between shared knowledge and personal knowledge, which is summarized by what “I know” and what “we know”. According to the Oxford Dictionaries, knowledge is defined as “facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject”. Personal knowledge is not certainly the same as community knowledge. What an individual knows or how an individual makes knowledge and what community knows are different matters. Personal knowledge is the knowledge acquired through observation or personal experiences by an individual. Shared knowledge is the knowledge shared between people who exchange through information, skills, or expertise. These definitions are neither the correct, nor only definitions of these terms. The classic general example would be with a patient that has a problem with his leg, where the surgeon would want to operate, the pharmacist would want to medicate, the physiotherapist would want to exercise the musco-skeletal system, the priest would pray and so on. Each of them would take its own approach based on his background and shared knowledge held by profession. However, knowledge sharing encompasses not only the sharing of “great things”, but equally the sharing of “little things” with the intention of improving the way things get done.
Natural Sciences and History provide plenty of examples which show unique study of the past and influence the present.
To begin with, can we use a scientific method to develop personal knowledge from shared knowledge?
Darwin’s famed evolutionary theories in On the Origin of Species, where the notion that all life is related and descended from a common ancestor: the birds and the bananas, the fishes and the flowers, all are related. The organism’s genetic code is altered as the genes mutate, of which the beneficial mutations remain because they ensure survival, a process called “natural selection”. Survival and adaption is determined by natural selection. Darwin’s theory became a theory in crisis in light of the tremendous advances made in molecular biology, biochemistry and genetics over the years. Thus shared knowledge led Darwin to concede that “if it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down”. DNA testing reveals our genetic make-up and, along with genetics, is a means of helping scientists to establish reasoning behind how species have originated from a common ancestor. The Human Genome Project, through its sequencing of the DNA, can help us understand diseases including viruses and appropriate treatment, identification of different forms of cancer, the design of medication and their effects, advances in forensic and applied sciences, biofuels and other energy applications, agriculture, livestock breeding, bioprocessing; risk assessment, bioarcheology, anthropology, evolution. It becomes clear that knowledge is perishable, increasingly short – lived and to get most things done you need to share with people to achieve your objectives.
On the other hand, for centuries people believed that life was created from elements and not from eggs, seeds or other ways of reproduction. The first to believe in this theory was Aristotle who based his thinking on the studies that Anaximander and Hippolytus had previously made and said that life came spontaneously like mud and earth when exposed to sunlight. The theory of the spontaneity of life continued to be believed for thousands of years after Aristotle until 1877, when Louis Pasteur proved that this theory was wrong. He showed that it was not possible for maggots to appear on meat in a sealed container. Pasteur demonstrated that fermentation occurs through the growth of micro-organisms and the emergent growth of bacteria is due to biogenesis (all life from life). Thus the “personal knowledge” of difference is changing which then affects the whole group/the shared knowledge.
Although truth is an objective requirement for knowledge, belief is a subjective requirement for it. Reason gives us greater certainty than perception or belief. What we often hear is said that science has proved something. “Every scientist knows that science advances only if knowledge is shared”, said Dr. Walt Warnick . If scientific knowledge is not shared, then research may not be done accurately. It is better if scientists share their opinions and thoughts in order to progress and succeed in finding new aspects in several different fields. Every single scientist has to have the incentive to share, use and improve his judgment, disclose ideas or being open to everything is more correct. Scientific progress needs a background of careful observation and imagination plays an important role in the development of new scientific ideas. Thus, part of Copernicus’ genius was that while he saw what everyone else saw when he looked at the night sky, he came up with a different way of looking at it, although this idea did not catch on when the Greek astronomer Aristarchus had suggested that the earth goes round the sun as early as the third century BC . Hence, the vast majority of our knowledge is neither personal nor individual but it is knowledge shared with the rest of the knowledge of the community.
Despite the success of the natural sciences we need to keep in mind that they do not have a monopoly for knowledge. “History is but the register of human crimes and misfortunes” said Voltaire. History seeks to reconstruct past on the basis of evidence that can be found in the present. History is knowledge and “those who don’t study the past are condemned to repeat it” (George Santayana). The emerging concept of knowledge democracy addresses the relationships between knowledge production and distribution of knowledge. Although the Athenian democracy was based on open deliberation and voting and recognized this as a distinctive way of gaining knowledge about the world and acting upon that knowledge, it was depended also on the willingness of the citizen participants to accept the implicit assumptions they lived by, and the information on the basis of which they cast their votes. Athenian political culture was based on collective opinion rather than on certain knowledge and on the assumption that opinion could be translated on practical reality through democratic political process. Thucydides developed what the world described as historical knowledge and he was supported by the majority of Athenians. Thus the personal knowledge of each Athenian became shared knowledge of all the Athenians and vice versa the shared knowledge of the majority of Athenians became personal knowledge of each one of them. History is not simply concerned with describing the past and explaining it. The study of history is something that can give us good judgment about human affairs.
On the other hand, history, as a shared knowledge, is a defence against propaganda. One of the best known examples of the abuse of history is from the Stalinist era in the former Soviet Union and the propaganda within Nazi Germany. Communist propaganda in the Soviet Union was based on the Marxist-Leninist ideology to promote the Communist party. Propaganda was part of education, broadcast by any means possible from schools to cinema, with a goal to build a society on the basis of common ownership of the means of production, where the society would be completely under the control of the state. Propaganda is the art of persuasion and Joseph Goebbels was in charge in Nazi Germany of Hitler. His role was to control and censor information available to the German population that could subject the Nazi party to any hostile or damaging opinions. This meant that the pro-Nazi information broadcast to the public was ever more persuasive in nature. Hitler managed to convince 70 million rational people to engage in horrible atrocities and wage war against the world using his speeches and propaganda. Thus history, which is shared knowledge, is concerned with the past and one obvious problem with trying to know the past is that it no longer exists.
History is based on primary sources, but since they are selective interpretation of events they cannot always be taken at face value since memory, emotion, sense perception, reason, faith, belief,language play an important role.
In conclusion, what are the implications of this shared knowledge for one’s own individual knowledge?
Personal experience, vision and inspiration can contribute to shared knowledge when that personal knowledge is communicated to and accepted by the community as it happened with Copernicus’ or Louis Pasteur’s theories. It could also be argued that the relationship between shared and personal knowledge is bi-directional and inseparable. But, shared knowledge of democracy shaped the personal knowledge of each Athenian. History of one’s own nation might give deeper understanding of one’s own past. Day- to- day work of scientists working within the “paradigm” has made scientists more aware and more receptive to the evolution of the scientific views, as Thomas Kuhn claimed. However, propaganda during Stalinist or Nazi era show that “paradigm” shifts are more likely in loose shared knowledge and may cause the total controversy of the world.